If you’re Canadian and you want to self publish, it can be tough to choose where to do it, as you may run into issues American authors won’t have to deal with on various platforms. I’ve put together a brief overview of some of the major self publishing platforms and the pros and cons.
But first, a few pieces of info about things you’ll need regardless of the platform you choose.
The Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) was required for many years for Canadians publishing/selling in the US. It went on US tax forms to allow you to file taxes, claim treaty benefits etc. It was a tedious process that, for me, meant hoofing it over the border to an IRS office.
Luckily in 2014, the rules were changed to allow Canadian SINs to be entered in place of ITINs.
Print on demand companies now either accept the Canadian SIN on the required forms, or they do an online tax interview. If you still need to do a form, it’s called a W8-BEN.
When you self publish, the printers like Amazon, Lulu, Smashwords etc automatically withhold 30% of your royalty earnings for US taxes. If you’re lucky enough to live in a country that has a tax treaty with the US, your amount of withholding could be less. Canada is extremely lucky – our tax treaty withholding is 0% (thanks to Article 12 of the US/Canada Tax Treaty).
This does not automatically reduce your withholding – you need to tell the platform not to take your money. To do this, you either complete their online tax interview (Amazon does this, for example), or you have to fill out an IRS tax form called a W8-BEN and send it to them (either electronically or by snail mail). Once this is on file, they will not tax your royalties in the US – you do, however, have to claim them on your Canadian income tax.
The International Standard Book Number is the 13 digit number by the bar code on each book that currently starts with 978. This is how people find your book and is mapped directly to that format of your book. If you are selling print you need this number. You can also use an ISBN for ebooks (although Amazon lets you use their own ASIN as well). Some POD publishers offer free ISBNs (Lulu.com does for example), and their ISBNs list Lulu as the publisher of record. If you get your own ISBN, you are the publisher of record, which looks a bit more professional.
Unlike our neighbours to the south, who have to pay for ISBNs, Canadians get them for free.
Yep, free. All you have to do is register with ISBN Canada. You can get as many as you like.
You’ll need a different ISBN for each format of the same book. So a different one for a trade paperback, a mass market paperback, hardcover, an ebook etc. But that’s fine, since they’re free!
Score one for the maple leaf.
Be aware – if you publish under a pseudonym and don’t want anyone to know who you are, you will be identifiable via your ISBNs as you are required to list a real name and address as publisher when applying for your ISBNs. The ISBN database is searchable, so any books you give a Canadian ISBN to will be searchable to your registered name and address.
If you want to be truly anonymous, use a free ISBN from print companies that offer one, or use an Amazon assigned ASIN only for digital work.
WHERE TO PUBLISH
Some publishing platforms are what they call aggregators, who publish to multiple outlets. For example, Lulu publishes print to Amazon, Barnes and Noble and more, while they also publish digitally to Amazon, Nook, Kobo and many more. You can also choose to publish directly to an individual platform, although you’ll have to manage your work across many more sites. There are pros and cons to each – aggregators usually give you a little less in royalty, but make up for it with having only one place to manage your work.
Here is a rundown of some of the more common publishing platforms.
Paperback – Yes
Hardcover – Yes
Ebook – Yes (Kobo, Nook, Apple, Amazon Kindle, Google Play, any retailer in the Ingram distribution network)
Lulu has been around for years and was the first self publisher I ever dealt with. I’ve been really happy with the quality in print books and the addition of ebook support.
Lulu has printers in various countries, including Canada, so your shipping costs are pretty good, even for bulk orders (see the comments section where I did a little research on this). A lot of Aussies tend to buy print books from my Lulu store, as I’ve been told Amazon shipping costs can be really high for them, but Lulu has an Aussie printer, so it brings the cost down a lot.
I’ve sampled their mass market paperback size (not eligible for extended distribution), their trade paperback and hardcover, and all are extremely well done.
The downside to their ebook service is the “Kobo and everything else” category. If you decide to publish directly to Kobo, but you want to use Lulu to get on Google Play, you can’t do that, as Google Play is grouped in with “Kobo and everything else”. I wish they’d separate out Kobo and Google Play from the other Ingram sites they publish to.
Please Note: Avoid their Pro Publishing Packages. They are high cost packages to put your book together provided by Author Solutions, NOT Lulu.com. Lulu partners to offer them, but they are expensive and not worth it. If you need to hire someone to format your book or handle marketing or other publishing services, do so independent of bundled packages any print-on-demand service offers.
- Payout is $5 via PayPal. This means that if you earn 5 bucks or more before the payout period (which is monthly), you get that money.
- Lots of choice for print books. Various trim sizes, binding types and page types to choose from. Only some are eligible for distribution, though.
- They often have special codes to use at checkout to get discounted print books, and it doesn’t cut into your royalty. This is great for promotions you can pass on to readers or to buy a bunch of your own books to sell at readings/conventions etc.
- You can create your own promos (that do hit you in the royalty).
- Lulu has a Canadian printer based in Toronto, so you can do bulk orders with no duty/exchange. The store is also offered in CAD.
- You can split royalties between two authors. This is great if you co-write as you can set the percentage each person receives. It’s one of the only platforms that work well for co-authors.
- The royalties for ebooks are pretty good. Not as good as being directly on the other platform, but fairly close.
- You get on pretty much every platform – Amazon, Kindle, Nook, iBookstore, B&N, Google Play, Kobo etc. This is the only non-Kindle site that publishes to Kindle so you can manage all of your books and formats in one place.
- Changing cover/price/content etc is easy. Beware that if you change content in a distributed print book (eg. distributed outside of Lulu to Amazon et al), you have to buy a proof copy for yourself each time you push an update or correction, however minor.
- I really like their converter. It converts well formatted Word files into PDF really well, and their entire creation process for print books (and ebook) is very easy. They have a cover creator as well.
- You get your own store website page to sell from and royalties are much higher here for print than through Amazon. But just try and get people to shop here … people like their Amazon!
- Free ISBNs if you don’t want to get your own. This is great for anonymity.
- I like their sales reports better than all of the other platforms. It exports to Excel and is very easy to read.
- Mark up for certain trim sizes is ridiculous if you distribute print books to Amazon. The most cost effective is the trade paperback size (6″x9″) where manufacturing costs are cheap enough that you can sell for $10-15 and still make a few bucks profit on Lulu. Or a few cents if it sells on Amazon (not kidding).
- Print books sold outside of Lulu net you very little in the way of royalties. My print book published from Lulu to Amazon usually got me anywhere from 56 cents to a just under a dollar. The book sold for $14.99. On Lulu, it nets me over 5 dollars. This is because the retail markup cuts into your royalty. There is a good chart here. I now recommend KDP Print for getting print on Amazon.
- With Lulu, their extended print distribution outside of Lulu is all or nothing. You either distribute just to Lulu or to everywhere. You can’t choose only Barnes and Noble or only Amazon etc.
- There’s no way to set a release date for an ebook or print book (although you can control the release date for the book selling on the Lulu site). It makes it hard to do a big release when there’s no guarantee it’ll be for sale when you say. You aren’t notified when it shows up on the other platforms either, so you have to watch for it yourself. This is true for pretty much every print outlet though.
- You can’t set prices based on location. You choose your base currency and others are converted from that. Other publishers, like KDP, allow you to set the cost in the currency of individual countries. This is nice if you like to make the Canadian dollar and US dollar price the same, so not being able to do that here is a bit annoying.
Paperback – Yes
Hardcover – No
Ebook – No (see KDP)
Createspace is Amazon’s print book publishing platform. It’s just as easy to use as Lulu (from what I’ve heard).
The main reason I decided not to go with them is their payment structure. They do NOT pay Canadians out via electronic funds transfer or PayPal. For a new-to-self-publishing person, this can be a big deterrent. You have no idea how long it could take you to sell enough print books, especially since ebooks are on such a huge upswing. You could be waiting forever for a cheque.
Aside from that, Createspace is very similar to Lulu. They accept our SIN instead of ITIN in their tax interview.
- They provide you with their own store to sell from (like Lulu) where you make more in royalties.
- They provide extended distribution beyond Amazon for print.
- They allow bulk orders and author copies, so you can purchase a copy for the print cost. This saves you money if you need to order in bulk, but I do not believe they have a Canadian printer, so there is duty/exchange to worry about.
- They don’t pay Canadians electronically. I don’t even understand this, since KDP does pay Canadian electronically. You can use 3rd party apps like Payoneer, but you’ll lose royalties. If you have a US based bank account, you can get paid electronically, however.
- As a Canadian, you are restricted to receiving physical cheques, and they don’t issue them unless you have $100 of royalties in your account. That $100 is per currency as well, which makes it even more ridiculous (so if you make 120 bucks US but only 30 Canadian, you only get paid the US).
- It seems likely they’ll be phasing Createspace out in favour of KDP Print in the future.
Paperback – No
Hardcover – No
Ebook – Yes (Apple, Nook, Kobo, Scribd, no Amazon)
Smashwords is an ebook only publisher. Smashwords allows the Canadian SIN on their forms, but the W8-BEN needs to be snail mailed in. They have recently updated their payment times to monthly, regardless of how much you’ve sold, which is really nice.
I haven’t used their service myself, but they have extensive guides on formatting your book so it’s accepted by all of the platforms. You can also sell your ebooks via their site. They do not publish to Kindle, however, they do have options to publish mobi files on their site so Kindle users could buy your book from the Smashwords site if they wanted.
A nice feature of Smashwords is the site allows readers to download up to 20% of the book in various file formats to see if they like it. It’s a great way to try some indie authors. They also offer book files as epub, mobi, pdf, html, txt, lrf, rtf and more. You can also gift electronic works to others via the Smashwords site. The site also has an app.
- Popular platform with lots of publishing options.
- Publishes to other popular platforms (not Amazon, but mobi is available)
- Pays out monthly with no minimums, so if you make a few cents, you’ll get it. They pay out via PayPal as well, so it’s handy for Canadians.
- They have a smartphone app, so people can read on their phones.
- Also gets your ebook available to libraries via Overdrive.
- You still have to get on Amazon if you want to have access to the largest marketplace, so that means managing ebooks in two locations.
- No print books, so you will have to deal with more than one publishing platform if you want print books too.
- Their publishing guidelines and requirements are a bit stricter than others, but honestly, this just helps you get your ebook in the best format possible (Apple has the most stringent guidelines, so if a site publishes to them, they’ll be more stringent with the files you submit).
Paperback – Yes! (new feature as of late 2016)
Hardcover – No
Ebook – Yes
Kindle is the most popular ereader (especially in the USA – 75% of all readers), and you can publish to it via this program. Readers can also download Kindle for their PCs or apps for their phone, so it’s not restricted to just Kindle devices.
You may also enroll in KDP Select, which means you sell your ebook only on Kindle. The benefits to this program (which you can opt in and out of) include being part of Kindle Unlimited and the Kindle Owners Lending Library. Books read through these programs earn you a share of the KDP Select Global Fund, where you are paid based on how many pages of your book are read by readers who borrow it. You also get 5 days of offering your book free or 7 days of offering it on discount per Kindle Select period (which is 3-4 months).
Despite being Canadian, most of my book audience is American. After I sold on all ebook platforms for awhile, I elected to do Kindle Select for my Brookline books for awhile. I’ve recently gone wide again thanks to glitches with KDP Select and wanting all my books to be available to Canadians easily. You may want to test the waters on all platforms first to see where the majority of sales come from before deciding on Kindle Select.
In 2016, KDP unveiled print books. You don’t get to buy books at cost like at Lulu or Createspace, there is no extended distribution beyond Amazon, but you make a decent profit (about 60%) here, which is better than if Lulu distributes to Amazon. Overall, I think this may be where I do all my Amazon print now, since they do pay out electronically to Canadians the same way they do with KDP. Note, they don’t sell print on the Canadian Amazon store though.
- The most popular platform out there. In 2015, Kindle had 75% of the US market (followed by Nook and Kobo) and around 95% of the UK market. (Canadian market isn’t that great – our Amazon Prime is separate from Kindle Unlimited here too, which sucks).
- Kindle Select allows you to promote with freebies and discount deals if you are exclusive to Kindle and your book is available nowhere else.
- Readers without a Kindle can still get the program/app for the smartphone, tablet and computer to read your books. Unfortunately, a lot of people aren’t aware of this.
- You can set a pre-order for your ebooks.
- You can opt in and out of Kindle Select, which is helpful if you want to first test the waters on all platforms, then find the one working best for you.
- Pay out via electronic funds transfer directly to your bank account (EFT, so there are no transfer fees). They pay out any amount, so if you earn it, you’ll receive that payment.
- Their tax interview takes the place of mailing in any paperwork for tax treaty benefits, and you can use your Canadian SIN.
- You make good profit on print books sold here – way more than Lulu, so I switched all of my print books (except any hardcover) to be sold to Amazon through KDP Print.
- Print allows you to choose between glossy and matte covers and between white and cream interior paper.
- To access the deals and KU/KOLL, you have to be exclusive to Kindle. This could be a deal breaker if you sell well on another platform or want your book available to Kobo readers in Canada.
- There is no way to split payments between co-authors. This means one person would have to receive it, claim it on their taxes as a whole, distribute the portion to the other author and somehow indicate that on taxes. Then the other author has to claim it on their taxes, so it’s taxed twice. Which is why I went with Lulu when I had a co-author lol. Kindle desperately needs to add revenue splitting.
- Payments are made about 2-3 months after sales have occurred. This is normal, but not as quick as some other platforms.
- Could prevent Canadians (who are primarily Kobo users) from thinking they can get your book. A lot of people are not aware of the Kindle app, or they don’t want to use it since it’s not available on other readers, only tablets and computers.
- I’m not a huge fan of their sales reports. They’re okay, but the Excel files they offer are pretty messy looking. I end up cleaning everything up myself.
- No at cost purchasing of print books available yet. No extended print distribution beyond Amazon either at this point. As Print is new, lots of glitches in their publisher initially.
Paperback – No
Hardcover – No
Ebook – Yes
Kobo is not as well known in the US, but thanks to its partnership with Indigo bookstores, has about 46% of the Canadian ereader market (2011) in Canada (and honestly, I think it’s way higher than that now since Sony is no longer in the ereader game). They also have a market outside of North America. They allow downloads from the Kobo store, but you can also sideload epubs and pdfs downloaded elsewhere on the devices which means people can download books from other sources and load them on the Kobo (like borrowing from libraries), so they aren’t restricted to the Kobo store.
You can publish to Kobo via Lulu or Smashwords, but the earnings were much higher using the Kobo Writer’s Life platform, which is easy to use and has a few features not found on other platforms.
- The Kobo Writer’s Life platform is easy to use.
- Higher payouts than using Lulu or Smashwords to get on Kobo.
- Kobo is the most owned ereader in Canada (the only English speaking country not dominated by Amazon).
- They allow you to sell your book for free if you want. This is only possible on some platforms, and is great if you offer a series and want to give away the first book to encourage sales for the others.
- They allow you to set sale prices as well so your readers can see the regular price and sale price.
- You can do pre-sales for your ebooks. The books show up in the store and are able to be pre-ordered. On release day, the file you’ve uploaded previously is sent to everyone who pre-ordered.
- They have a promotions program – some don’t cost upfront (they take a percentage of any sales you get) while others cost. They will place your book up in their deals section. I notice the percentage of sales ones don’t get pushed up front unless they are selling, so you have to be proactive with marketing when you get a promo.
- They’ve recently added a KDP Select-like program in certain countries that you can opt-in to – and you DO NOT have to be exclusive to Kobo to participate, which is great. Hopefully they’ll expand it to other markets soon.
- Updates to the site are very fast. Within an hour or so your book is usually up with corrections done.
- Their customer service has been fast and really great – and funny. I’ve laughed so hard at some of the emails. I just love these guys.
- You can set which territories to sell in and you can set prices for most of the big ones (allowing you to price match to the US price or give some countries a deal on your book).
- Distributes ebooks to Chapters/Indigo (Canada), Angus and Robertson (Australia), Whitcoulls (New Zealand), FNAC (France), WH Smith (United Kingdom) and many others in many countries (26 million users in 190 countries).
- If your material is interesting to a US audience, you may not have a lot of sales to US readers here.
- Their sales reports need work. Too many clicks to get where you want, and it’s complicated to see all of your info. They also don’t seem to have a way to export your sales info to Excel or other applications.
- Payouts are at a minimum of $50 paid via EFT (thank you commenter for the updated info!). The upside to this is that they WILL pay out after six months regardless of how much you make. So if you make under $50 in royalties, be prepared to wait.
Also an aggregator, there are no set up fees, they just take 10% of each sale (on top of the percentage the other platform charges – ie, a book sold on Apple has a percent taken by Apple and the D2d percent as well – you usually end up with around 60% or so, which is standard with aggregators). They also handle formatting and get you on all major platforms. D2D is really popular with a lot of writers. I have never used it, so I can’t really comment, but it works a lot like Smashwords. You can also set up pre-orders with most vendors, which is a big selling point.
iBookAuthor (Apple iBookstore)
With the popularity of iPhone, iPad and other Apple devices, many people elect to read on their tablets or phones. You can sell on the Apple iBookstore by using the iBookAuthor site to prepare your book. I found it easier to go through Lulu, as iBookAuthor was a bit more rigorous. A lot of authors have good sell rates using the iBookstore because of how popular iPads and iPhones are.
The Nook reader is the second most popular in the US and is offered through Barnes and Noble. You can publish to it via their site Nook Press, or through Smashwords or Lulu. I only published to it through Lulu, so I can’t comment on the process at Nook Press.
I’m not familiar at all with this platform (as Lulu got me on it in the past and I’m not an Android user). This platform means anyone running a phone or tablet with access to the Google Play store (ie Android users) can get your book. They aren’t accepting new sign ups right now, so you’ll have to go through an aggregator to get on Google Play at the moment.
This is a pay service that will get you on most of the sell channels. There is a set up fee for the format (print or digital or both) and also costs to print and ship your books. The only upside that I see is bookstore have the ability to stock your book, as returns are accepted. However, this benefit does cost you, unlike the other platforms, which have no fees.
Owned by Ingram, they offer print on demand to full publishing. There are set up fees, change fees and a high cost for author copies. Like IngramSpark, you can accept returns which would allow a bookstore to order your book. Whether they would or not is the question.
Brick and Mortar Stores
If you are looking to get your print book into brick-and-mortar stores, Createspace and Lulu will not do that. While you do get listed on Ingram and other book lists, they are not listed at the 40% discount to stores that traditionally published books are, and they don’t offer returns, and for this reason no bookstore would order it.
An option might be to talk in person with local bookstores to see if you can work something out with them.
Look into IngramSpark and Lightning Source if you are interested in getting into bookstores, but be prepared for it to cost you, as these are pay services. There is no guarantee a bookstore will order your book, but they would have the ability to.
Avoid anything connected to Author Solutions (parent company of AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Tafford Publishing, Xlibris, Palibrio, and Booktango). They also have partnerships with Simon and Schuster (Archway Publishing), Thomas Nelson (WestBow Press), Hay House (Balboa Press), Guideposts (Inspiring Voices), Writer’s Digest (Abbott Press) and Lulu (Pro Publishing Solutions only. Lulu itself is totally fine). Author Solutions and its products are not print-on-demand services like Lulu, Createspace etc, but vanity presses which cost you money by selling expensive publishing packages. The lawsuit against them is summarized here.
You can do the work of publishing your book yourself (it’s not as hard as it seems) or hire someone to do it for half the cost these services offer. Visit writing message boards to ask for recommendations for editors, formatting experts, marketers etc.
Overall, self publishing for Canadians is fairly easy and affordable. If you wanted to, you could publish a book without putting out a single cent. (Granted, the quality might be questionable depending on how talented you are!)
Costs you may incur would be your choice – you could hire people to handle everything from cover design, to editing, to interior formatting, to ebook conversion, to marketing, to your author website design. What you spend is up to you.
If you have any pertinent info to share about self-publishing from a Canadian standpoint, feel free to comment!
There’s lots of great chat about indie publishing at KBoards.